Catching up, plus the 4.6.17 agenda

We thought we’d start with a quick summary of what’s been going on the past few months.  Some highlights:

Superintendent Search

The biggest news here was announced this week: former Superintendent Dan McMinimee, who stepped back at the beginning of March, has accepted a job as superintendent for the New America Schools charter school network. He will begin that position when his Jeffco contract ends on July 1.

Meanwhile, McMinimee will continue to serve Jeffco Schools in an advisory role, per his revised contract, while Terry Elliot serves as acting superintendent.

At the March meeting, board members looked at the responses they had received from the community about qualities they thought most important in our next superintendent. You can see the community feedback in this presentation, visit the Jeffco Schools superintendent search page, and and view the Ray & Associates ad for the position.

Jeffco School Board members will hear an update on the superintendent search at tonight’s April 6 board meeting. The application window for the superintendent search ends April 10, and Board members will meet in executive session with Ray & Associates to start screening candidates on April 20.

2017-18 Jeffco Schools Budget

Here, we’d first like to direct everyone’s attention to the most current list of budget reductions so that everyone can see that the Wheat Ridge High School GT Center and the proposed closures to Swanson, Stober, Peck, and Pennington are off the list. Those items are listed as “removed” in the document.

The March 23 budget presentation also included feedback from the online interactive budget tool, and from the telephone town halls. More than 18,000 individuals viewed the tool and 5,366 responses were submitted, which is a 585 percent increase over the previous year.  Feedback from all sources is listed on slides 7 through 9.

Board members clarified at the March 23 meeting that, unless something drastically changed at the state level, it was extremely unlikely they would consider the items in the deferred column again this year.

Current projections indicate that the final state budget will be close to the governor’s request, and board members agreed that district staff could proceed with the following budget assumptions:

  • Approximately $4 million in new state funding
  • Including the items in blue on this list in the Jeffco Schools 2017-18 budget
  • Increasing compensation for all Jeffco employees by $19.8 million
  • Keeping any one-time use of reserves on hold until there is more clarity on state funding

The first budget public hearing will be April 20. The second public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 4.

Want to Join the District Accountability Committee?

Applications are being accepted for Jeffco’s District Accountability Committee (DAC) from now through April 30. If you are interested in joining this important group, read more about the DAC application process here and about the work the DAC does here.

Other News

The Wheat Ridge High School GT Center is off the list of cuts, as noted above. However, there still seems to be some confusion about how the SBB funding mechanism will work to support the GT Center Program. After our previous post about this issue, we heard from some readers who said that WRHS’s SBB dollars only fund six classes and this is a seventh class, though we know of other Jeffco high schools that are funding seventh classes with SBB.

Some of the feedback also focused on the fact that this is a program and not just a class. While we agree, our combined and varied experiences among the JCSBW writers has been that GT Centers in our Jeffco elementary and middle schools are also programs that address both the socio-emotional issues as well as providing appropriate academic acceleration.

We hope the Jeffco School Board members will follow up with the WRHS staff and accountability committee in a future meeting to check in on the progress and talk through any issues that could pose a problem in future funding.

Doral Academy will lease Zerger Elementary from the district for the 2017-18 year, per a contract that was approved at the March 23 meeting. It is a one-year lease with no option for renewal, and Doral representatives told the Jeffco School Board that their ideal location is further west. Here are three key things you need to know about this decision:

  1. If the school board hadn’t approved the lease, Doral could have appealed the lease decision to the State Board of Education. We’ll merely point out that given the State BOE’s decision regarding Great Work Montessori, it’s likely the state board would have told Jeffco to approve the lease anyhow.
  2. Jeffco Schools can continue to market the property while Doral is in it, so it won’t impede the district’s attempts to sell it.
  3. According to the contract, Doral will pay nearly $200,000 to lease the building, which, frankly, is money the district is not receiving while Zerger sits empty.

Several board members expressed concern about an overabundance of charters in the area and the potential impact on neighboring schools. It is true that there are a lot of charter schools clustered in the area. Woodrow Wilson Academy is also located in the Zerger neighborhood, merely a half-mile away. Excel Academy is only two miles to the west, Jefferson Academy is 2.5 miles, and Lincoln Academy is 3.5 miles away.

However, Doral’s current location is only 3 miles away from Zerger, making it unlikely that the lease will have a substantial impact on neighboring schools. Families who either wanted a nearby charter school or who wanted one still within walking distance of their house have had Woodrow Wilson as a nearby option even before Zerger closed in May 2011.

The school board approved a three-year conditional contract renewal for Mountain Phoenix, which is a Waldorf charter school. The issue was test scores, because Mountain Phoenix’s 2016 academic proficiency scores were quite low, triggering an automatic flag during the contract review process.

The school’s math scores ranked in the 9th percentile in elementary, and 25th percentile in middle school. Math growth scores were also below the district average at all grade levels except 7th grade. Science scores were also low, with the scores at the 18th percentile in science for both elementary and middle school students.

Much of this can be chalked up to the “Waldorf curve,” because Waldorf focuses on arts and storytelling and creativity in the early grades. The Waldorf curve is something the district has been aware of for a number of years, and the students generally have shown improvements in academic proficiency, especially during the middle school years.

This is another topic that has drawn a lot of ire from critics who implied that the district was unfairly focusing on Mountain Phoenix when other neighborhood schools also are struggling with academic proficiency. However, the actual conversation in the board room was polite and respectful, with board members and Mountain Phoenix staff trying to find the best way to balance how to preserve the Waldorf experience while also finding new ways to address the increased academic standards. A three-year contract was approved, and we at JCSBW think that Mountain Phoenix will be successful.

New boundaries were set for Shelton Elementary and Welchester Elementary at the board’s March 9 meeting to accommodate the students from Pleasant View, which closes at the end of this year.

Agenda for the April 6 Jeffco BOE meeting

Watch for a presentation from the TDPAC (Technology Data Privacy Advisory Committee) during the 5 pm study session.

The Board will also hear an update on the superintendent search during the study session, as noted above.

The regular meeting will begin at 6 pm with the usual awards and recognitions, after which the board will discuss the District Unified Improvement Plan (UIP). There are several attachments for this agenda item, so we’ll link to the District Accountability Committee UIP Recommendations and encourage you to visit BoardDocs to look at the other associated materials.

As always, we encourage you to attend the meeting in person or to watch the live stream. Videos of the meetings are also available for later viewing.

JeffCo Proud!

11.17.2016: So what’s next?

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The election is over. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, now we have to start thinking about how to move forward without bond funds to pay for facility upgrades and without additional mill levy funds that would have helped our schools and provided backfill money in case of state cuts.

We strongly encourage you to attend or stream tonight’s Jeffco School Board meeting because your input will be more important than ever in the coming months. The meeting starts at 5 pm in the Education Building, located at 1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden, CO. The board room is in the fifth floor.

If you can’t attend, you can stream the meeting from this link:

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Or you can watch it or any of the previous board meetings later at your convenience.

The first agenda item is about boundary changes for the 2017-18 school year in the Ralston Valley articulation area. Candelas K-8 will finished and ready for students, so the district needs to redraw the boundaries accordingly.

Also note: Candelas K-8 is now officially Three Creeks K-8. That name was approved at the Nov. 3 school board meeting.

District staff met with members in those communities and used their input to decide on the final boundaries. You can also sign up for public comment if you’d like to talk to the board about the boundary change. Remember to sign up by 3:30 pm and to read the other guidelines about public comment, including the three-minute time limit for individuals. Groups of four or more speakers–who have signed up as a group in advance–have 10 minutes.

Also on Thursday’s agenda:

We’d like to highlight slide 14 from the budget process presentation. Specifically, it notes:

  • If the state funded schools according to all of the rules in the School Finance Act and Amendment 23, Jeffco Schools per-pupil funding would be $8,399.
  • The governor’s 2017-18 proposal increases the negative factor, which means less money for our kids.
  • The current proposal would set per-pupil funding at $7,416, which is considerably less than the $8,399 students would have without the negative factor.
  • Inflation is projected to be 2.7 percent.
  • The last time the state increased the negative factor was 2012-13.
  • How much money has Jeffco lost since the legislature hadn’t invented the negative factor in 2010?  $567 million.

The board will go into more depth about the current projections and what that means for the 2017-18 Jeffco Schools budget. Board members will also discuss ways to gather input from the community in the coming months.

Last but not least, the board will discuss next steps for the district in light of the failure of 3A and 3B.

The budget conversation isn’t likely to start before 8 pm. If time is at a premium for your family (and whose isn’t these days?), we’d suggest tuning in around 8 via the live stream.

JCSBW will keep you updated on the board news as we go forward, but we can’t emphasize enough how important it is for you to stay involved with this process.

And last, thank you to everyone who volunteered for the 3A and 3B campaign and to all of you out there who voted for it. It certainly wasn’t the outcome we hoped we’d see, but nevertheless, we remain committed to working to find solutions for all of our students.

Some of you may be wondering why 3A and 3B didn’t pass this time. We have lots of thoughts about that but will save them for a different post. The most pressing issue this week is to move forward to look for new solutions. And with that, we remain

Jeffco Proud!

 

 

 

State Funding vs. Property Taxes: Why We Need 3A and 3B

Have you found yourself thinking about how your property taxes were higher this year and wondering why school districts across Colorado, including Jeffco Schools, are asking for more money in mill and bond requests like 3A and 3B?

We have answers. Read on!

Believe it or not, both of these things are true:

  1. Property taxes in Jeffco increased due to increased home values in the area.
  2. State school funding remained largely flat.

In Jeffco, state funding for the 2016-17 year increased 1.2 percent over 2015-16 funding, as reported in Jeffco’s 2016-17 Dollars and Sense brochure. Inflation, however, has been measured at 2.8 percent on the Front Range and is predicted to be at 2.6 percent this year.

When we say state funding has remained “largely flat” what we mean is that sometimes — such as this year–it isn’t even keeping up with inflation, which means less money for classrooms, for maintaining facilities, and for keeping pay competitive.

What’s worse is that even though the housing market is booming and taxes are up, the Denver Post reported last month that 2017-18 budget cuts may be on the way:

Colorado’s state budget faces a potential deficit this fiscal year, economic forecasters told state lawmakers Tuesday, as tax revenues continue to fall short of previous expectations.

If true, that would mean cuts to K-12 funding for 2017-18, and potentially mid-year cuts this year.

Let’s repeat that: despite a booming economy and increased property taxes, Jeffco Schools could see mid-year budget cuts this year.

That was the news a week ago. A few days ago Chalkbeat report Nic Garcia tweeted that the state budget chief now thinks that won’t happen. However, we won’t know more until the budget forecast is released at the beginning of November.

Here’s how school funding can remain flat even though your taxes increased:

StateLocalfunding

It’s pretty simple: the state uses more of your local taxes to fund your schools and decreases their share to use elsewhere in the budget. Mill levy override funds, on the other hand, aren’t part of the equation. All money from 3A and 3B stays in Jeffco and puts additional money in all our schools — charter, option, or neighborhood — and does so equitably. All students benefit.

Money from 3A becomes part of the operating budget; money from 3B is specifically for facilities, including capital maintenance, new construction, and school additions.

This chart that shows Jeffco’s state funding for the past several years. Note that 2016-17 funding is a mere $167 more than it was in 2009-2010.

statefunding

If state funding was keeping up with inflation, our students should be receiving $7,956 this year — $719 more than actual funding levels.

That’s why school funding needs a grassroots effort — in this case, 3A and 3B.

This graphic shows the difference that mill levy override funding makes for students. Boulder and Denver voters have approved many more 3A dollars for their students, which means their districts have more dollars for the classroom every year.

fundingcomp

Also, we’ve seen some crazy posts complaining that money from 3B isn’t being used to target student achievement. First, the law dictates that 3B money has to be used for facilities. Second, students learn better when they’re not being distracted by cold air from drafty windows, chilly classrooms from outdated HVAC systems, or water dripping into a bucket in their classroom because the leaky roof hasn’t been fixed. It’s just common sense.

A few other points:

1.  Yes, it would be nice if the state would get rid of the negative factor and restore that money to schools. But it hasn’t happened despite intense lobbying from Colorado’s superintendents, advocacy groups like Great Education Colorado, and individual citizens.

Instead, more cuts are predicted. Are we content to sit by and watch our school budgets get slashed again, or can we do better for our students? Our answer: by voting Yes on 3A and 3B Jeffco can do better.

2.  Marijuana money won’t dig us out of the funding hole. In fact, Jeffco isn’t receiving any pot tax. It isn’t and won’t help us with the current issues.

3.  Last, don’t forget that there is a cost to doing nothing in Jeffco. The leaky roofs won’t miraculously repair themselves. The cost to educate students and maintain our facilities won’t decrease if we choose to ignore it. We’ll talk about that more in another post.

Want one more reason? Watch Jeffco Economic Development Corporation Chair David Jones explain why the JEDC endorsed 3A 3B:

Please vote Yes on 3A and 3B, and then get those ballots in. Use this graphic to encourage others to vote by Nov. 8.

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JeffCo Proud!

Myth-Busting the Jeffco Schools 3B Bond

As we’ve explained in previous posts, voters are being asked to approve mill levy override and bond issue on this fall’s ballot, known as 3A and 3B. We’ve seen a lot of false statements by the anti-tax crowd that opposes it, so today we’d like to separate fact from fiction regarding the bond.

LogicFail

Myth: 3B will increase the amount residents pay in property taxes in 15 years.

Fact: This bond is structured like recent previous bonds, such as those in 2004. It is a 25-year bond and the financial piece has been organized to make sure the burden to the taxpayers is consistent throughout the next 25 years.  

Those perpetuating the myth that the costs will go up have forgotten that Jeffco will pay off previous bonds during this time period, which will allow them to keep the cost to taxpayers the same, whether taxpayers are paying their taxes next year or in twenty.

Myth(s): Too much (or not enough) of the bond is being allocated to new schools. Too much (or not enough) of the bond is being allocated to Jeffco’s maintenance backlog. Too much (or not enough) of the bond will be used for additions to existing schools.

Fact: The bond balances the district’s need for new schools in growing areas of the county, with the ability to create efficiencies by adding classrooms to some existing buildings rather than construct entirely new schools.

The reality is that in some areas, more classrooms at an existing school will address our students’ needs, while in other areas — particularly those that were mere fields back in 2008 — need an entirely new school. All of our existing schools also have maintenance needs, and part of the bond will also be used to address the most critical needs.

Myth: All sorts of bond money will be wasted on fees and overruns.

Fact: Any good bond will be structured so that the projects in the bond won’t exceed the value of the bond.

If you’ve done any kind of major renovation of your house, you know that the initial cost estimate is just that: an estimate. The cost of construction materials alone has skyrocketed in Jeffco in the past years as building has boomed, and those costs also affect any construction and maintenance done to our schools.

If the bond didn’t include contingency dollars and the cost of supplies inflates even more, either the school would be forced to come back and ask for more money to complete the promised projects, or they’d have to tell certain communities, “sorry, we wanted to do that but we ran out of money.”

Structuring the bond to account for inflation and to make sure that projects will not exceed the bond amount is smart financial planning — and the reason that the Jeffco Schools Financial Oversight Committee encouraged the school board members to put 3A and 3B on the ballot.

Myth: This is a “billion dollar bond.”

Fact: This is a $535 million bond and calling it anything else is just plain silly.

A bond is a lot like a mortgage. Schools borrow the amount they need, and they pay it back with interest. If you borrow $80,000 for a mortgage, you call it an $80,000 mortgage even though you’ll pay much more than that with interest. 3B isn’t any different.

The district has typically included the entire payback amount in the ballot language. While we agree that the payback amounts are shocking to see (and for that matter, think that about car payments and our own mortgages too!), there’s nothing unusual here.

As a comparison, the 2012 ballot for the voter-approved $99 million warm, safe and dry bond read as follows:

SHALL JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT R-1’S DEBT BE INCREASED $99 MILLION WITH A MAXIMUM REPAYMENT COST OF $195 MILLION OR SUCH LESSER AMOUNT AS MAY BE NECESSARY, AND SHALL JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT R-1’S TAXES BE INCREASED $19.8 MILLION ANNUALLY OR SUCH LESSER AMOUNT AS MAY BE NECESSARY FOR THE PAYMENT OF SUCH DEBT …

Here’s the language in this fall’s ballot:

SHALL JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT R-1’S DEBT BE INCREASED $535 MILLION WITH A REPAYMENT COST OF $987.22 MILLION OR SUCH LESSER AMOUNT AS MAY BE NECESSARY, AND SHALL JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT R-1’S TAXES BE INCREASED $72.6 MILLION ANNUALLY OR SUCH LESSER AMOUNT AS MAY BE NECESSARY FOR THE PAYMENT OF SUCH DEBT….

Let’s compare them.

2012

  • $99 million bond
  • Total payment to not exceed $195 million

2016

  • $535 million bond
  • Total payment not to exceed $987.22 million.

The repayment is similar, except in 2016 the district is able to make a better deal thanks to low interest rates. If this bond was structured the same as the 2012 $99 million bond, it actually could have had a total payment that is $71.56 million more.

We’re no math whizzes, but we think saving more than $71 million by borrowing now is a pretty good deal.

The 3B bond is a strategic, thoughtful decision that will allow Jeffco to repair, update, and build well-maintained schools for our students. We encourage you to vote Yes on 3A and 3B and hope you will encourage others to do the same.

Have you voted yet? If not, remember that you can drop off your ballot at any of the county’s drop boxes, send it by mail (though use 2 stamps just to be on the safe side.

Every vote counts, and we hope you will support 3A and 3B. Please also help us get out the vote by encouraging others to turn in their ballot and then use this fabulous profile picture to encourage even more voters to turn their ballots in too. Thank you!

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JeffCo Proud!

Jeffco 3A & 3B Basics: Big Year for Mill & Bond Elections

Continuing our series on why the Jeffco School Board is asking for a mill and bond this year, today’s post focuses on the bigger picture — what other districts are doing to address Colorado’s education funding shortage.

We’ll give you a hint – ballot measures for mill levy overrides and bonds are on the ballot in more than 50 districts around our state. Denver, Aurora and Jeffco combined are seeking over $1.4 billion in bonds alone, and across the state, school funding ballot initiatives top $4 billion.

One big factor: our state’s “negative factor,” which says the state can give schools less funding than actually mandated by Colorado’s school funding formula. The Colorado School Finance Project believes this approach has plummeted Colorado’s per-pupil spending to 40th in the US, when we should be closer to 28th if the negative factor funds were actually given to our school districts. Without this funding, school districts across Colorado struggle to offer competitive salaries and maintain their buildings.

Here in Jeffco, hiring salaries are below the average of the five most comparable nearby districts – sometimes as much as 16% lower. In the last few years, Jeffco’s teacher turnover has steadily risen,  and our current school board has made it clear that they want Jeffco to be the first choice for the best teachers.

This year, our board used one-time dollars to provide modest pay increases for employees. That compensation level can only continue if the mill levy override passes.

The 3A mill dollars will also ensure increased mental health support for schools, increased security, increased Student Based Budgeting funding for all schools, increased support services, and equitable allocations to all charter schools. This ensures Jeffco students will receive the education necessary to prepare them for college and careers. And these dollars will stay in Jeffco.

Jeffco also has significant and growing maintenance and improvement needs at its 155 schools. Should the bond pass, 110 schools will receive much-needed improvements, technology updates, repairs and lab upgrades. Additionally, 45 schools and facilities will receive long-overdue renovations and additions, including new classroom space – something that has not been added since the 2004 bond passed. And, four schools will be replaced and three new elementary schools built.

Some are asking why maintenance on existing schools has been deferred so long. Quite simply, funding has fallen far short of the level it needs to be to offer competitive salaries and maintain schools. Funding has been so inadequate that Jeffco has fallen farther behind our neighboring districts in compensation while also deferring growing maintenance needs in order to protect funds going to classrooms.

Jeffco is not alone in this funding crisis – which is why we see 50 districts around our state asking voters to approve additional resources  Of the seven largest districts in Colorado, six have funding initiatives on the November ballot.

Jeffco, with 86,000 students, is asking for a total of $568 million – and has not had money to spend on new square footage in schools since 2004. That’s 12 years!

Denver, with more than 90,000 students, is asking for $628 million – that’s on top of the nearly $1 billion Denver voters have already approved over the past 8 years.

Cherry Creek has about 55,000 students, and is asking voters to approve $273.9 million in new funding. Cherry Creek voters also approved $150 million four years ago.

Aurora, with about 42,000 students, hopes voters will approve $350 million.

Boulder, with about 31,000 students, has reached funding caps, but can ask voters for an additional $10 million under the newly passed Debt Free Schools Act.

Rounding out the seven largest districts, Adams 12 Five Star, with just under 40,000 students, hopes for an additional $350 million, and Douglas County, with nearly 67,000 students, is still considering options.

For our visual learners, here’s a table comparing the ballot measures of several districts. 2016 Mill Bond Comparisons

2016 Mill Bond Comparisons Graphic1

2016 Mill Bond Comparisons Graphic2
This November, communities across our state will be asked to shore up their local schools to ensure the best education and opportunities for their students.
Poudre School District Board President Cathy Kipp speaks for all these communities when she writes,
The alternative to this plan is not pretty. It involves expensive temporary solutions, which come straight out of the school district’s general fund and negatively impact the education of all our students. This is the way schools are built and maintained in Colorado, by the will of our voters.
Here in Jeffco, voting Yes on 3A/3B will mean safe, well-maintained classrooms and buildings. It will mean ensuring our Jeffco Schools continue to be some of the best in the area. It will mean a better future for our students and our community.

3A3B

To volunteer to help the Yes on 3A/3B campaign, visit Support Jeffco Schools. And please pass along this information so more voters have the facts.

JeffCo Proud!